Case study: Perlentaucher (Germany)

The name of the publication and / or company

Perlentaucher

Established

2000

Web Address

perlentaucher.de

Form of the company

Perlentaucher Medien GmbH (LLC)

Describe your site or business in few words.

“Perlentaucher is an internet-only culture magazine offering an extensive daily press roundup in combination with our own reporting. We aim to engage ourselves actively in cultural, political and internet-related debates. In addition to such important subject areas as literature and film, we also cover a wide mixture of other cultural themes in our reporting.”

Thierry Chervel, the managing director of Perlentaucher (Eng. Pearl Diver) , notes that the site registers 650.000-950.000 visits and about 300.000 unique users per month. These figures make Perlentaucher, according to its own proclamation, “the most read culture magazine in the German-speaking online world”.

Perlentaucher’s business model is highly dependent on online advertising, which brings in “at least 80 percent of the total revenues”. Additionally, Perlentaucher supplies Spiegel Online (The second-largest online news site in Germany) with a daily cultural press roundup called “Heute in den Feuilletons” in exchange for a designated ad-space which Perlentaucher markets independent of Spiegel Online. Another revenue stream for Perlentaucher are book sales commissions it gets from a major German online bookseller Buecher.de; all the book reviews on Perlentaucher are linked exclusively to Buecher.de and every purchase originating from perlentaucher.de merits a commission. Buecher.de also publishes Perlentaucher’s content directly on its website.”

Staff numbers

Who’s creating the content

Content creators, paid full-time

2

Content creators, paid half time

1

Content creators, paid freelancers

4

Are some of the content creators citizen contributors or interns?

“Perlentaucher doesn’t use citizen contributors but occasionally we do have interns or trainees.”

How is your time divided between doing business and content?

“As a managing director my time is divided fifty-fifty between doing business and content. Perlentaucher has four shareholders and nominally I am the managing director and, quasi, the public face of the company; I am also the principal contact person for our clients. However, since we are a small firm, there is obviously no organisational hierarchy.”

For the past five years part of Thierry Chervel’s time has been spent dealing with a court case which has been brought by two national daily newspapers against Perlentaucher. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung accuse Perlentaucher of violating copyright and trademark laws by writing summaries of their book reviews and selling them on to online bookseller Buecher.de.”

Business, marketing & sales, paid full-time

1

Business, marketing & sales, paid half time

1

 

How they make money

Revenue models and sustainability

Would you say your business model is sustainable?

“In March 2012 Perlentaucher will celebrate its 12th birthday, which makes us a sort of a pioneer-institution of the internet age. Our existence has been perpetually precarious; it is extremely difficult to survive only through advertising revenue. Nevertheless we have endured. In 2010 we were nearly wiped out because of the sharp decline in the advertising market. Then in January 2011 our financial difficulties became so severe that we had to turn to our readers and ask for donations. In the following ten days we received about 22.000 Euros and that saved us. This year the ad-market has somewhat rebounded which has given us a reason to be relatively optimistic. On the whole, a small business like Perlentaucher has to always think with visible horizons and for us that horizon is the balance of our accounts. Right now I can see one year ahead, so that’s our horizon.”

According to Chervel the German online advertising prices fell momentarily in 2010 to one-tenth from the highs of the preceding years. The donations from readers saved Perlentaucher in January 2011 and since then the website hasn’t abandoned this form of monetary support.

“After we survived the acute crisis in January 2011, donations have lessened significantly. Currently we receive donations infrequently and not in any substantial amounts. As a permanent solution or as a viable business model donations will not work. Incidentally, that same applies to paywalls.”

How much is your yearly or monthly revenue?

250.000 Euros Yearly

Where does your revenue go?

“All the revenues go to pay the wages of the full-time and half-time employees as well as the wages of the freelance content creators. The shareholders don’t get any dividends or such. Furthermore, part of the revenue goes to cover the salaries of a technical administrator and an accountant, who work in half-time capacity.”

How much do you pay to your contributors?

“First, one has to make a distinction between articles made by Perlentaucher’s own editorial staff and essays from prominent academics that we occasionally publish. Our editorial staff gets monthly salaries for their work and the freelancers are paid on per story basis. On the other hand, the essays from academics and other authors we get free of charge. This is often because we are personally acquainted with the authors and they make their texts available to us or place them at our disposal.”

In the past Perlentaucher has published essays from such renowned academics as Timothy Garton Ash, Götz Aly, Ian Buruma, Jürgen Habermas, Slavoj Zizek and Adam Michnik.”

What about profit?

“I don’t like theoretical questions. Though, I can say that for example an iPad-application would not benefit an online publication like Perlentaucher. Our business model is heavily built upon the use of external links and because of the hermetic or closed nature of the iPad-applications we don’t see any financial gain in launching such an app.”

What kind of advertising you sell?

Ad Networks, Cost Per Impression (CPM), Newsletter Advertising and RSS Advertising.

What other service s you sell?

Freelance journalism, Affiliate Marketing – Individual Programs, Donations

Do you see your publication as your main product?

Yes I do.

If you think about the revenues, has your publication become more of a marketing channel for other products?

No.

What would be the most important thing on your road to sustainability?

“At the moment Perlentaucher is heavily dependant on online advertising, so for us to become firmly sustainable, the ad-market has to become more profitable. Fortunately, there appears to be some positive developments in the German online advertising market. My hope is that Perlentaucher, as a quality content site, could secure quality advertisers with proper prices. If that were to happen, Perlentaucher would become genuinely sustainable, though never highly profitable.”